Tag Archives: San Sebastian

Defending champions off the mark in San Sebastian

Friday 4th January, Donostia-San Sebastian

The defending champions, with David Merino fit again, registered their first win of the 2013 edition on Friday, taking a pulsating match of epic proportions right at the death. This was a titanic struggle, lapped up by a near capacity crowd at Atano III, which stretched over an hour and where almost every point seemed a miniature match in its own right. All four players hit the heights and were extremely evenly matched. The Riojans looked the more secure early on, but once Xala and Barriola settled they began to turn the screw, edging ahead 11-14, 13-16 and 17-19 with Xala forcing Titin to play an ever more physical game and Barriola hitting long with great aplomb. However, the champions battled hard and showed enormous determination to close the gap in the dying rallies of the game. From 17-19 they drew level and moved directly to match point. Xala and Barriola threatened a comeback as they seized another point and with it the serve, but Titin and Merino were not to be denied and brought it home 22-20. This win was not enough to move them out of the bottom half of the table, but will surely have given them the confidence they need to get their defence on the road after a rocky start.

Scoring sequence: 1-0/ 1/ 1-2/ 2/ 2-6/ 3-6/ 6/ 7-6/ 9-6/ 9-7/ 10-7/ 10/ 11-10/ 11/ 11-14/ 12-14/ 12-15/ 13-15/ 13-16/ 14-16/ 14-18/ 17-18/ 17-19/ 19/ 20-19/ 21-19/ 21-20/ 22-20
Winners/errors: Titin 11/2, Xala 12/5, Merino 1/3, Barriola 3/6
Balls hit: 810
Match time: 94 minutes with 39 minutes of actual play

Titin and Merinos defence is back on track

Titin and Merino's defence is back on track

Photo: mine

San Sebastian Final: Defenders to the Fore in Victory for Irujo and Zubieta

Tuesday 23rd August, San Sebastian


The final of the Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian was a strange match, exciting not for its quality but for its unpredictability and its closeness. Both forwards hit winners aplenty, many of them stunningly executed, but also made myriad mistakes. There was little to choose between them at the end of the match, and it was the defenders, while less noticeable, who held the key to the fortunes of the opposing sides. Both Irujo and Zubieta began shakily, but Irujo’s recovery came concurrently with the return of Zubieta’s poise. The man from Etxarri-Aranatz, playing without a knee brace for the first time since his operation, hit the heights as the match progressed, producing both the game plan and the execution to push his pair over the finish line. Laskurain, despite being marginally shaded here, was named man of the tournament, confirming the week as one in which the defenders truly shone.

The match started very evenly indeed, with each player showing both good and bad in turn. From 2-2 though, it was Xala and Laskurain who put their feet on the pedal, advancing to 10-5 which some calm, while Irujo increasingly lost the plot. His error on 2-3 resulted in him hurling the ball furiously at the frontis, sending officials ducking, and the mistakes kept coming, a low volley negating some excellent long returns from Zubieta, a failure to return an eminently reachable gantxo, a miscue down the wall and a wild cross court swipe leading to a five-point deficit. Zubieta also contributed to the rot by hitting high twice, and the red pair barely needed to extend themselves to maintain their margin.

However, the ride turned when Laskurain momentarily lost his touch and hit high. Irujo and Zubieta took four points in a row to close to 9-10, aided by two errors from Xala. Xala, clearly annoyed by his lapses, seized the initiative back with a devastating spell of three cross court winners. He then bombed Zubieta, who fell short with a long strike, and the five-point advantage was restored. But again Irujo and Zubieta came back, their latest recovery also kick started by an error from Laskurain. Irujo increasingly brought his trump cards to the table, aided by a partner in Zubieta who was starting to fire on all cylinders. His pressure led directly to errors from both his opponents, and he found ever more depth to force Laskurain onto the back foot. They drew level at 15-15 thanks to one such Laskurain failure, and when a txoko from Irujo put them ahead, Zubieta clapped vigorously, knowing the momentum was with them. Supported wonderfully from the back, Irujo produced a txoko and an inspired skimming dos paredes borne of pure reflex to give them a 15-19 advantage.

The next two points went to Xala and Laskurain, as Irujo proved with two errors that his conversion to form was not complete, the first throwing away a point in which Laskurain had been very much on the run. A service winner from Xala reduced the gap to one point at 19-18, but Zubieta unleashed a wonderful ball over his rival’s head, the icing on the cake of a mad scramble beneath the frontis from all parties. Xala was to have the final say in the match; he gave his pair some hope with a nonchalant cross court winner, on match point, but undid it with a wild and wide ball to give the match to the blues by a three point margin. A game shaped by errors ended most aptly.

Scoring sequence: 2-0, 2-2, 4-2, 4-3, 7-3, 7-4, 9-4, 9-5, 10-5, 10-9, 14-9, 14-11, 15-11, 15-19, 18-19, 18-21, 19-21, 19-22

Winners/errors: Irujo 7/8, Xala 7/6, Zubieta 2/3, Laskurain 0/5

Match time: 64:23

Balls hit: 515


The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

The fully recovered Aitor Zubieta

Image from: Deia, by David de Haro

San Sebastian Semis: Xala-Laskurain to Play Irujo-Zubieta in Final

Friday 19th August, San Sebastian


The first San Sebastian semi-final ended with a far tighter score line than might have been expected. Xala and Laskurain proceeded to today’s final at the expense of Olaizola II and Begino, but what had looked like an easy win was momentarily put in jeopardy by a comeback which almost gave the reigning Pairs Champions licence to dream. The early part of the game was close, with the pairs tied at 1-1, 2-2, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. Both forwards looked as if they were shaping up for an epic duel. Four of Olaizola and Begino’s six points in this spell came from the former’s brutal airez, which he seemed able to sling into open space at will. Xala replied to his virtuosity with some wonderful tactical play, showing himself capable of wrong footing Olaizola, and countered his opponent’s venom with some most improbable defensive efforts. Begino made a brace of errors and Laskurain one, but generally speaking, both defenders seemed the perfect foils for their attacking forwards.

However, Xala and Laskurain broke the deadlock. They edged ahead when Begino was rendered completely baffled by a ball he imagined Aimar would take. Xala’s two txoko winners, separated by a missed attempt at the same shot, gave them a 9-7 lead, and they added eight points without reply, sweeping to 17-7 and the brink of triumph. Xala was the main instigator of this run of points, drawing gasps from the crowd with the pace and precision of many of his winners, whether cross court or into the corner. However, the real difference here arguably lay with the defenders; as Laskurain grew in stature, continuing his scintillating form from Zarautz, Begino looked increasingly lacklustre and gave Aimar, who only committed his first error with the score at 7-16, little room for manoeuvre. With an attack dulled, and Xala seemingly able to retrieve anything, the game looked to be up.

The momentum of the pelota match can change dramatically with the serve, and the blue pair won it back with a cross court winner from Aimar which, for once, left Xala reeling. He took the next two points in addition, hitting to the corner with total command. It seemed as if the sun had finally begun to shine on the trailing pair when Begino finally found some magic and struck the rebote, much to Laskurain’s visible chagrin. 11-17 seemed a little healthier; another few points and the opening was there. However, the advantage was lost once again when Aimar rushed into a txoko and hit it low. His fury with himself was plain to see. Begino let the deficit out further with an inexplicable miscue, but they came back to within five with a deceptively easy swipe into a clear court from Aimar, another rebote from Begino and a rare error from Laskurain. A ball from Xala into Aiimar’s body and a slip from Begino gave the reds match point at 21-14, but still the blues fought, two Aimar winners and two Laskurain errors bringing the score to 21-18. However, the dream comeback was ended with a typically clinical airez from Xala.

Xala and Laskurain were the better pairing for the majority of the match, and made hay while Begino suffered a lengthy lapse. Xala barely put a foot wrong, hitting 12 winners to 2 errors. Aimar managed 10 winners to 2 errors, signalling a solid evening from the multi txapela winner, but one in which he failed to break through Xala’s excellent defences for sufficiently long periods. Laskurain, until the very end, played a solid and astute game, acting as a near perfect foil for Xala’s venom.

Scoring sequence: 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, 2-4, 3-4, 5-4, 5-5, 6-5, 6-6, 8-6, 8-7, 17-7, 17-11, 19-11, 19-14, 21-14, 21-18, 22-18.

Winners/errors: Xala 12/2, Olaizola 10/2, Laskurain 3/4, Begino 2/5

Match time: 1:04.16, with 24:04 playing time

Balls hit: 488


The Manomanista Champion, Xala, is in excellent shape

The Manomanista Champion, Xala, is in excellent shape

Saturday 20th August, San Sebastian


Irujo and Zubieta will join Xala and Laskurain in the final tonight, having beaten Bengoetxea and Beroiz by the narrowest possible margin on Saturday. The Asegarce pair was ahead for almost the entire tense encounter, though their lead never grew to more than four points. They were tracked closely by Irujo and Zubieta, who showed their nerve at the death, coming from 18-20 and saving a match point to draw level, before seizing the decider for a 22-21 win after 82 minutes and 609 strikes of the ball. The match was partially overshadowed by the consequences of moisture on the fronton, which made a noticeable difference to the stability and confidence of the players from 18-16 onwards. Atano II has suffered and overcome this problem in the past, and investigations will surely commence. Happily though, all four players emerged unscathed.

Scoring sequence: 2-1/ 5-1/ 5-2/ 5/ 7-5/ 7-6/ 8-6/ 8/ 9/ 10-9/ 13-9/ 13-10/ 14-11/ 15/ 17-15/ 17-16/ 18-16/ 18/ 20-18/ 20/ 20-21/ 21/ 21-22

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea 8/6, Irujo 8/4, Beroiz 0/6, Zubieta 1/5

Irujo will face Xala in the final

Irujo will face Xala in the final

 Images from soloespolitica.com, Deia

Pelota on ETB Sat, 19th-21st August: Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian

Tonight the summer festival circus moves on to Atano III for the Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian. Four pairs are involved, and the winners of each semi final will progress directly to the final, to be held on Tuesday 23rd. Tonight, the Manomanista finalists of last month face off, Xala with Laskurain and Olaizola II with Begino, with whom he won the Pairs Championship. Tomorrow, Bengoetxea VI and Beroiz play Martinez de Irujo and Zubieta.

Friday 19th August, San Sebastian


Followed by XALA – LASKURAIN v OLAIZOLA II – BEGINO San Sebastian Semi Final

Sunday 21st August, San Sebastian



To watch, go to https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat/en-directo

Aimar Olaizola into Manomanista Final, as Bengoetxea succumbs to power and guile

Sunday 29th May, San Sebastian


It would have been easy for Aimar Olaizola to have fallen into the trap of complacency. The two-time former winner, and current Pairs champion, has swept all before him this year, and to many, his scintillating win against Martinez de Irujo in the quarters felt like the final; how would he rouse himself for another effort, against a dangerous opponent with the skills to spring a surprise? Aimar, however, was firmly on his guard, and a slight mid-game lapse notwithstanding, produced another performance seemingly designed to crush the soul of Benogetxea, himself the champion in 2008. That year, he beat Aimar in the semis, but in 2011 there was no chance of that.

Bengoetxea started well, winning the first two points with clean winners. However, a falta ceded the serve, and with it the advantage. Aimar took the following three points with poise, producing a service winner and a txoko, and forcing Bengoetxea to hit wide. The underdog showed all his noted resolve to draw back level, repelling a barrage of long balls from Aimar before producing a winner from a position of near desperation, and then serving his way to 4-4. However, the next passage of play was one way traffic, as the great Navarrese forward unleashed the heavy artillery, adding eight points without reply. A key turning point came when Bengoetxea left a serve which looked to be going long. When it was called in, Aimar kept the serve and battered his rival into submission, manipulating him like a puppet on a string and finishing him off with a cocktail of overarm volleys, drops and a beautifully angled dos paredes which made the crowd purr. Bengoetxea defended with all his might, but was still found wanting, his disbelief palpable when he hit fractionally low after brilliantly picking the ball up from his toes at 4-10.

Bengoetxea got back on the board at 5-12, striking a winner by the skin of his teeth from an Aimar gantxo. There followed a period in which Bengoetxea chipped away, coming back to within five points at 8-13 before Aimar reminded him of the status quo by means of his powerful left arm. At 8-15, Bengoetxea would need to bring about a seismic shift to have any chance, but miraculously, he almost did it. Aimar made two uncharacteristically careless errors in a row, the second borne of a tactial blunder in choosing not to go long earlier in the point. Bengoetxea, full of bounding confidence and fight, then produced four winners in a row, finding momentary domination with a wonderfully employed long serve. Suddenly it was 14-15, and the game took on a very different complexion. Aimar, hitherto so calm and matter of fact, wore a furrowed brow. However, in the manner of great champions in all sports, he raised his level when the pressure was on, allowing Bengoetxea only one more point in the match, in a salvo which took him from 15-14 to 22-15. The awe inspiring Aimar was back, whipping the ball behind, above and round his ailing opponent until he was either forced into failure or powerless admiration. Bengoetxea never gave up the fight, but Aimar was a cut above.

This was perhaps not as complete a performance from the favourite as the one which vanquished Irujo, but the same elements remained in place. His serve was strong and well directed, his speed was immense and tactically he was almost faultless, employing the simple but devastating tactic of controlling the left wall and pummelling his opponent with his left hand. Bengoetxea tried to play him at his own game for much of the encounter, volleying from serve in an attempt to wrest the initiative. Against a lesser opponent, this may have borne fruit, but Aimar was unfazed, and showed how it should be done, with a total of eight airez winners in the game. He plays Xala in the final, which will be held on 19th June in Bilbao, delayed for a week due to a minor hand ailment suffered by Aimar. If he plays as he did against Irujo, Xala will be left reeling; if he lets his guard slip, and if Xala plays at the top of his game however, it could be a classic.

Scoring sequence: 0-2, 4-2, 4-4, 12-4, 12-6, 13-6, 13-8, 15-8, 15-14, 20-14, 20-15, 22-15

Winners: Olaizola 13, Bengoetxea 9

Errors: Olaizola 2, Bengoetxea 4

Service winners: Olaizola 4, Bengoetxea 4

Service errors: Olaizola 0, Bengoetxea 1

Match time: 56.30, with 10.54 of actual play

Balls hit: 264

Olaizola II: worthy finalist

Olaizola II: worthy finalist

Image from: Kiroljokoa

Cuatro y Medio Final: Barriola the bridesmaid succumbs to the irresistible force of Irujo

Sunday 12th December, Donostia-San Sebastian


Cuatro y Medio Final

On Sunday, 29 year old Juan Martinez de Irujo from Ibero became, officially, the second most successful pelotari of all time. In adding the 2010 Cuatro y Medio crown he took his tally of txapelas to nine, and only the incomparable Retegi II, with twenty, stands above him in the pantheon of pelota playing gods. It was Irujo’s second win in this championship, the first coming in 2006, and confirms him as the runaway player of the year, holding as he does both individual crowns. Few would bet against him adding the Masters title to his palmares in the next fortnight, for Atano III witnessed vintage Irujo, in a display which showed emphatically why he is at the very pinnacle of his art.

At first, the game was all about Barriola. It cannot be overlooked that for the man from Leitza, simply making this final was a triumph of some magnitude, for many doubted he would ever reach his former heights in the wake of his appalling knee injury of last year. His play in the first seven points appeared as a celebration of his resurrection, and with sheer exuberance he put Irujo to the sword. He stormed to 3-0 with three unreturnable serves, low, skidding and guileful. A clearly rattled Irujo hit low in the next point, and Barriola marched on, with yet another service winner. He then proved his quality in open play, maneuvering his rival expertly in the following two points to take a 7-0 advantage. Could he dare to dream?

For any mere mortal, such a drastic start would likely prove impossible to overcome, but Irujo is on a plane above the ordinary. Time and again he has proved his ability to turn deficits into positions of strength, and by sheer force of will, and white hot determination, he came roaring back, all bared teeth and pumping fists. The tide turned when he managed to dig out a point he had no right to win, scrapping like a dog before sending Barriola haring back to no avail. With his tail up, he played Barriola at his own game, winning the next four points with three service winners and a searing gantxo. He piled on the winners, passed his opponent’s tally, and kept going. Barriola hit wide attempting an ambitious winner on 7-9, and this acted as a barometer for the state of the match; the underdog now knew that to beat Irujo he had to take risks, and with this realization on the part of his rival, the eventual winner scored a crucial sucker punch.

Barriola’s risks did on occasion pay off. He stemmed Irujo’s flow with a skimming crosscourt winner to peg his deficit at 8-10, but he now seemed anxious, losing the next two points with a rushed gantxo attempt and a high ball with which he tried in vain to pin Irujo back. Irujo slipped into another gear with the point for 13-8, driving Barriola all over the fronton before crushing him with a gantxo. Barriola refused to be bowed however, and chipped away at the scoreboard with flashes of dogged brilliance. He drew level again at 14-14, thanks to his strong serve, several ingenious winners and two uncharacteristically slapdash errors from Irujo, and it was game on once again. However, in three swift points, the whole complexion of the game swung once again to Irujo, this time for good. Agonisingly, Barriola struck the 4 ½ line in an attempt to push Irujo long, and railed against himself, hands on head. With the lead back, Irujo pounced with venom, producing a gantxo which reasserted his dominion over the fronton. He then worked Barriola over mercilessly, sending him wide and then long, before his valiant salvage attempt fell short. Irujo was now tearing, blinkered, towards the prize, swinging freely and oozing confidence from every pore. He treated Atano III to his full armory of attack. Barriola served at 19-16, still within striking distance, but in sad contrast to his earlier brilliance in this department, his ball failed to travel far enough. This was the final nail in the coffin, and Irujo wasted little time in condemning Barriola to his seventh straight defeat in a major final.

Barriola, the perennial bridesmaid, may find this loss hard to swallow, but the man from Leitza has confounded the critics. It was sometime after his comeback before he regained the fluidity and accuracy for which he is known, but with his performance in the Cuatro y Medio and the tournaments which led up to it, he has regained his status at the very top of the game. For Irujo, who suffered a painful and unexpected loss to Gonzalez in last year’s final, the sky is the limit. How many more titles might he add before he writes the final chapter of his already illustrious career? Might Retegi II be toppled?

Scoring sequence: 0-7; 10-7; 10-8; 13-8; 13-10; 13-12; 14-13; 14-14; 15-14; 16-14;19-14 19-16; 20-16; 20-17; 22-17.

Match time: 43 mins, with 9 mins actual playing time

Balls hit: 206


Sheer delight for Juan Martinez de Irujo

Sheer delight for Juan Martinez de Irujo

Image from Noticias de Gipuzkoa, by Ruben Plaza



San Sebastian Final: Victory for the Leitzarras after injury to Xala

Friday 27th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


It was an anti-climactic end to a match which had everything. With the score on 10-12 in favour of Bengoetxea and Barriola, the latter raced forward to retrieve a txoko from Xala. He got there, and dived, but the ball hit him on the rebound, giving the point to the opposing pair. Such was the drama of the point, in much the same vein as every point in this absorbing encounter, that one could have been forgiven for missing the stumble of Xala as his knee went sideways in the execution of his winner. As he sat, slumped against the wall, a resigned shrug told the story. He was hurt, and departed for treatment. He returned to the fray, briefly, but to continue was not worth the risk of lasting damage. Two points later it was all up for the pair in red, and thus came to an end a game, which although only partially played, was as long as a complete match of average length. Nobody can say what might have been.

The match started with a whitewash by Bengoextea and Barriola, the men from the same small Navarrese town of Leitza. Bengoetxea was supreme, looking every inch the player who took the 2008 Manomanista by storm. The first point, which ended in the first of his nine winners, was a tactical tour de force. Apraiz took took it on and attacked his opposite number, but Bengoetxea wrested the initiative before whipping the ball into space in the wide court. Xala almost nailed the second point, but pushed his attempted winner wide, and the Asegarce forward continued his masterclass, with five winners in the next five points, showing the immense range of his skill. In the point which took the score to 3-0, he dealt Apraiz a merciless working over before barreling one above his head. The next was won with a drop before he flummoxed Apraiz again. A service winner stretched the lead to six, and a textbook long serve-gantxo-drop routine took it to seven. Barriola was faultless as Bengoetxea’s foil, and there was nothing their opponents could do.

However, the tide turned. Bengoetxea, who had been stretching throughout the game, left the fronton at 7-0 for attention, and when he returned, he found a changed opposition. The reds gained their first point from Bengoetxea’s first mistake, and the second came from a Xala serve. The leaders continued to score in ones and twos, but the real surge by Xala and Apraiz came at 4-10, upon which they added five points without reply. Notable here was the reverse in the fortunes of the defenders. Hitherto, Barriola had been irreproachable, but Apraiz was not intimidated by his reputation and seized the initiative. Barriola’s dip started when he got utterly mixed up close in to the wall and pushed one wide. He withstood some searing pressure in the point which followed, but subsequently cracked under Apraiz’s salvo, going short and low in consecutive points. Xala, too, moved up a gear, tricking Bengoetxea superbly at 2-8, and firing merciless winners at 6-10 and 8-10. With the reds only one point in arrears, it was anybody’s game.

Bengoetxea and Barriola relieved some pressure, restoring their two point lead after the former ended a full scale war of a point with a crosscourt winner, but threw it away immediately with miscued sitter of a txoko. The pattern repeated itself as Bengoetxea volleyed cleverly into space, before the txoko winner in which Xala’s knee gave out. After the treatment break, Apraiz struck low before Benogetxea grabbed a three point lead with an easy winner into the corner, but Xala appeared immobile and dejected; he could not go on.

There is no way of knowing what could have happened in the remainder of this extraordinary match, so full of gargantuan points, stunning defence and virtuosic winners. A rout had seemed on the cards, but Xala and Apraiz showed an iron will to fight, and stormed back to within an inch of the lead. When the accident happened, Bengoetxea and Barriola appeared to be in the process of regaining their calm, and one has to concede that the best pair in the tournament took the spoils. Their semi final performance was a display for the ages, and in the early part of this game they showed that their level there was no fluke. Barriola took home the trophy for the player of the tournament, and save for his momentary slip in the transitional part of the final, he was near faultless. Bengoetxea too was in a higher league, full of venom, attack and guile. The fans can only hope that they will be afforded the chance to renew their partnership very soon.

Xala was diagnosed with a sprained right knee in the aftermath of the match, and will undergo further medical tests tomorrow to determine the extent of the injury.

Scoring sequence: 0-7,2-7,2-8,3-8,3-9,4-9,4-10,9-10,9-11,10-11,10-12,11-12,11-14

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea VI 9/3, Xala 4/3, Barriola 0/3, Apraiz 1/2

Total match time: 1:02.03

Playing time: 22.45

Balls played: 471

Oinatz and Abel, victors in San Sebastian

Oinatz and Abel, victors in San Sebastian

Image from Gara, by Jon Urbe

Pelota on ETB-Sat, 27th-29th August: San Sebastian Final

Friday 27th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


23:25 (CEST) XALA – APRAIZ v BENGOETXEA VI – BARRIOLA Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Final

Sunday 29th August, Zarautz



To watch, go to https://www.eitb.eus/television/etb-sat/en-directo/


San Sebastian: Xala and Apraiz finalists at Atano III

Tuesday 24th August, Donostia-San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Semi Final

The final of the San Sebastian tournament will be between two pairs whose players are drawn from opposing empresas. Yves Salaberry and Alexis Apraiz booked their place on Tuesday, beating the established pairing of Pablo Berasaluze and Aritz Begino, to take their place in Friday’s showdown with the men from Leitza, Bengoetxea VI and Barriola. The game was won in the forward battle, where Xala stood head and shoulders above Pablo, who had a night to forget. Xala signalled his intent from the word go with two crosscourt winners which verged on the nonchalant, and he never looked back, committing one solitary error in nearly twenty minutes of playing time. In the final at Zarautz, Xala was very far from his usual self, but here we saw the play from him to which we have become accustomed this year. Never ruffled, he played with icy calm, hitting ten winners, and exuding utter control. He finished the match as he started it, with an easy winner, to further confirm his status as man of the match. In contrast, Berasaluze leaked errors, committing eight in total. He was potent at times, scoring eight winners too, but these were essentially wiped out by his inconsistency. He fought hard, as ever, but Xala was an obstacle too far for a man in less than his greatest form.

The backs were more evenly matched, both making four errors. Apraiz, for his part, grew in confidence as the match progressed, finding a nice rhythm and a cool head. The majority of his mistakes came early on in the game, and he offered high level support to his attacking game-winner. Begino was perhaps the more inventive of the two, managing three outright winners, and was strong from the rear of the court, but the crucial battle occurred in front of him and Begino; no amount of stoic support could have saved Pablo. On the evidence of their semi final, Bengoetxea and Barriola will be hard to beat on Friday. Bengoetxea has been in fine fettle of late, and looked totally at ease with his new partner. Apraiz will have to play out of his skin to upset Barriola, who is currently playing like a Rolls Royce, and Xala will need another game like Tuesday’s if he and Apraiz are to lift the silverware.

Scoring sequence: 0-3, 2-3, 2-4, 4-4, 4-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-7, 7-13, 8-13, 8-14, 11-14, 11-15, 12-15, 12-18, 14-18, 14-20, 16-20, 16-22.

Winners/Errors: Xala 10/1, Berasaluze VIII 8/8, Apraiz 0/4, Begino 3/4

Balls played: 393

Match time: 51.56

Playing time: 19.20

Apraiz offered good support

Apraiz offered good support

Image from Diario Vasco by Michelena

San Sebastian: Crushing Victory for Leitza’s Famous Sons

Monday 23rd August, San Sebastian


Torneo Ciudad de San Sebastian Semi Final

This was an extraordinary match, in the main for the wrong reasons. It would be unfair to overlook the stunning play of Oinatz Bengoetxea and Abel Barriola, but inevitably the post mortem centres around Titin and Zubieta, both supposedly in excellent form, and their utter implosion. On the face of it, they should have been the better oiled partnership, having played together on many occasions. Bengoetxea and Barriola come from the same town, Leitza, in north western Navarre, and know each other well, but are unaccustomed to playing as colleagues. In the Manomanista final of 2008, which will go down in the civic annals and in local legend, Leitza ruled the sport, with Bengoetxea defeating Barriola to take the greatest prize of all, but the prospect of seeing the towns most famous sons in tandem was almost as enticing. Their collective virtuosity and their obvious empathy on Monday night makes one wish such a meeting could occur more regularly. They put Titin and Zubieta in the shade.

The game promised much, and the early exchanges did not disappoint. It was the eventual losers who drew first blood, when Barriola could not return a stunning long ball from Pairs Champion Zubieta. The second point was staggering in its variety, and was won by Barriola who came forward to whip the ball wide, having survived intense pressure. Titin took the lead again with an airez, before allowing his rivals to draw level once more at 2-2 with a low txoko attempt. All seemed set for an epic tussle. However, for Titin and Zubieta, the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. They managed only three more points in the match, two of which came from the errors of their opponents, and the third from Titin’s second and last winner in the game.

The statistics tell the story of the gulf between the forwards. Bengoextea was on fire, striking nine winners to only one error. Five of his winners came from serves, a part of his game which clicked excellently well. He was striking in his speed and verve, never resting, always scrapping, and made space for his winning shots with ease and grace. In contrast, Titin looked leaden footed. He possessed none of the spark of his recent matches, and appeared stiff and immobile alongside Bengoetxea’s dexterity. He barely looked in a position to go for the kill, and when he attempted it he was found wanting. He provided no kind of platform for Zubieta, who also looked off colour. He showed his class in the course of many of the rallies, but missed the spot on four occasions, trying vainly to create some pressure on his opposite number, the irrepressible Abel Barriola. The great defender continues to go from strength to strength since returning from his enforced break. Here he was once again magisterial, striking cleanly and elegantly from all positions. Not content to simply field the long ball, he often came forward to mix it in the front half of the court, notably pulling off an astonishing dos paredes on 10-3 which sent Titin into a rage. It is telling that Titin’s opposing defender scored more winners, four, than he did.

Titin and Zubieta had a day to forget but will come back and prove their class soon enough. For them, it was a case of bad turning to worse, the one affected by the woes of the other. The game started well for them, and they appeared increasingly in shock that things could have taken such a dramatically bad swing, as did the gathered crowds. Bengoextea and Barriola in contrast look like an irresistible partnership, belying their inexperience as a couple. They will represent a tough obstacle in the final as they aim once more to make Leitza proud.

Scoring sequence: 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2, 2-6, 3-6, 3-7, 3-11, 4-11, 4-12, 4-17, 5-17, 5-22.

Winners/errors: Bengoetxea VI 9/1, Titin III 2/4, Barriola 5/2, Zubieta 0/4.

Balls played: 354

Total match time: 40.28

Playing time: 16.42

Oinatz and Abel united

Oinatz and Abel united

Image from Diario de Navarra by JA Goni